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Journal Cite Checking Guide: Topic Selection Resources

This guide is intended to assist journal members in locating print, PDF, or page image versions of cited materials for sourcing assignments.


Often times choosing a suitable topic proves to be the most difficult part of writing a law journal note or comment. A suitable topic is one that is both of current interest in the legal community and one that is of interest to the author. But where does one find such a topic and how does one ensure the topic has not already been written on?

This page provides an overview of the topic selection and preemption process and provides links to sources that may provide helpful during the process. In particular, this page covers:

Goals in Selecting a Topic

  • Locate a topic of interest to others:
    • You'll want to make sure that your topic is useful to the legal community,  has not already been covered by others, and does not run the risk of becoming immediately irrelevant. While that may seem like a daunting task, your not the first law student to have faced this challenge and there are plenty of people and resources to help you make that determination
  • Locate a topic of interest to yourself:
    • For what it’s worth, whatever you choose to write on, make sure it’s a topic that you want to live with for a long time. You don’t want to sit down after a long hard day to re-edit something that doesn't interest you. Beyond that, once you become an expert on something there is a realistic possibility that your career choices may be guided by that expertise.

Different Types of Student Notes (and Comments)

Your goal in writing  a note or comment is to provide a unique perspective on an issue of law, take a position on an emerging legal issue, or offer a new interpretation of an existing rule of law. There are a number of angles you can take to accomplish this goal. Below are some examples of different angles with some corresponding possible search terms.

Type of note Search tip or technique
Circuit split

circuit /2 split! AND (topic)

(split OR conflict) /s (court OR circuit OR authority)

Seminal case / Novel question "first impression"
State law comparison Use 50 state surveys on Lexis, Westlaw and Bloomberg
Comment on case or statute Run citation through Keycite and Shepard's to locate additional cases and commentary


Resources for Locating a Topic

  • Current legal news and newsletters: each of the big three providers (Lexis, Westlaw and Bloomberg) provide curated databases of current legal news. These are often a great starting point.  One can search across news on all topics/ practice areas or drill down to particular ones.Here's how to access them, in alphabetical order.
    • Bloomberg Law News
      • Bloomberg Law > News & Analysis > News Home, or news by topic or practice area
      • U.S. Law Week is a newsletter of particular interest as it tracks recent developments from across the country.
    • Lexis Legal News Hub
      • Lexis Legal News Hub (including Law360 content) is now an 'experience' located at the bottom of the 'experience dock' located in the left-hand column of the Lexis home screen
    • Westlaw Legal Newspapers and Newsletters
      • Westlaw > Secondary Sources > Legal Newspapers and Newsletters
      • Again, one can search across all 400+ topical newsletters or filter on the left to a particular topic
      • Westlaw Bulletins and Topical Highlights is a particularly good source for current legal news.
  • Blogs: Today, many legal professionals and organizations use legal blogs (blawgs) to offer expertise and opinions on current events. There are a few catch-all tools that are helpful to locate these.
  • State and federal agency websites: Most agencies will have a news section on their websites
  • 50 state law surveys: Lexis, Westlaw and Bloomberg provide tools for comparing state laws and regulations on a number of different topics.
    • BloombergLaw > Practitioner Tools > Chartbuilders
    • Lexis > Legal Research 'Experience' > Content > Secondary Material > Content: 50 State Surveys
    • Westlaw > Secondary Sources > 50 State Surveys
  • Internet resources: There are many fine articles, blog posts, research guides and videos dedicated to topic selection for law journal. a basic natural language search for 'writing note law review' or something similar will reveal these. For example, LexisNexis has a Topic Selection and Preemption Youtube video here  and accompanying tip sheet here. Of particular note here is YouTube. Many librarians and vendor representatives have recorded their training sessions and, again, a simple natural language search of YouTube should reveal these..

Notes on Case Comments

One of the common questions for those working on case comments is: how do I make sure I have all cases about this case or topic. There are a few simple steps one can take to ensure completeness.

  • Locate the pertinent cases cited in the main case (the citing case) and read those. The 'cited' cases may themselves cite to other relevant cases.
  • Run your case through both Shepard's (Lexis) and Keycite (Westlaw) to see what other cases, law review articles and news sources have cited your case
  • Run an independent search for law review articles or news sources that may cite to your case or discuss the legal topic

Preemption Checking

Of course, once you find a topic you'll want to ensure that your topic has not been written about before or 'preempted.' There are a few steps that you can take to satisfy that you're not writing on a topic that's already been covered.

  • Run search through law review and law journal databases
  • Check SSRN (Social Sciences Research Network)
  • Check BePress
    • BePress is the backbone of many institutional repositories
    • Authors may post works in institutional repositories before they get published
  • Search the internet with Google or Google Scholar
  • Set up alerts wherever you can to make sure nothing changes while you are working on your note or comment
  • Other sources on preemption checking:

Law Library


Loyola University Chicago
School of Law Library 
Philip H. Corboy Law Center
25 E. Pearson Street
Chicago, IL 60611


Access and borrowing questions:
Research questions:

Phone Numbers

Main:  312.915.7200
Circulation:  312.915.6986
Reference:  312.915.7205
Interlibrary Loan:  312.915.7202
Fax:  312.915.6797

Additional Resources

In addition to the resources/ techniques mentioned above, there are a myriad of other helpful resources for further investigation.

Academic Texts

Scholarly Articles

Eugene Volokh, Writing a Student Article, 48 J. Legal Educ. 247 (1998).

Richard Delgado, How to Write a Law Review Article, 20 U. San Francisco L. Rev. 445 (1986).

Heather Meeker, Stalking the Golden Topic: A Guide to Locating and Selecting Topics for Legal Research Papers, 1996 Utah L. Rev. 917 (1996).  This article gives practical advice on how to identify a strong topic for academic legal writing and describes a preemption check process